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The Spooktacular Pumpkins of Ray Villafane ─ Best Pumpkin Carver in the World!

It’ll be Halloween again in a week and who best to feature but Ray Villafane ─ hands down ─ “the Best Pumpkin Carver in the World!” as he was so aptly called by Steve Hartman.  Well, that’s because just about no one does pumpkins like Villafane. You will see why in the pictures below.

Villafane is so famous he has become the darling of the press. He has been written about in every newspaper and magazine, website and blog including People Magazine, Star Magazine, Men’s Health, Wall Street Journal, The Las Vegas SunThe Sun (in the UK, plus others like) The Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Post …you name it, he’s been in it. And then he has been on almost every show on earth like the Fox 10 News, the Martha Stewart Show, the Evening News with Katie Couric as well as Steve Hartman’s Assignment America where he was ceremoniously referred to as “the best pumpkin carver in the world!”.

 

Absolutely Spooktacular! Love the wrinkles, warts and all. The carvings are crafted with stunning realism right down to the facial expressions.
Absolutely Spooktacular! Absolutely love the clown. Love the wrinkles, warts and all. The carvings have such stunning realism they could be mistaken to be alive.

 

It’s hard to imagine these pieces of awesome art are just fruits. Yeah the pumpkin by definition is a fruit, not a vegetable. Villafane’s style of carving is ─ as Chucky (on the right) would likely say ─ “No Child’s Play.”
It’s hard to imagine these pieces of awesome art are just fruits. Yeah the pumpkin by definition is a fruit, not a vegetable. Villafane’s style of carving is ─ as Chucky (on the right) would likely say ─ “No Child’s Play.”

 

This one’s a knockout. The 3D carving packs a whallop like no other, complete with flying teeth to boot! Look at how the skin is carved to fold and indent right where the fist impacts it.
This one’s a knockout. The 3D carving packs a whallop like no other, complete with flying teeth to boot! Look at how the skin is carved to fold and indent right where the fist impacts it.

 

Martha Stewart, completely taken over when he was on her show, gave him the godly moniker of being “the Michelango of Pumpkin Carving” while the Wall Street Journal,  firmly placing Villafane amongst the ranks of artist greats, called him “the Picasso of Pumpkin Carving”. They are not wrong. Not by a long shot.

 

One of my favourite ─ the squeezed face. Look at the expression. It’s what brings these carvings to life. Right: This one appears to be holding its breath in a tank of vinegar. Villafane says vinegar helps preserve the pumpkin for weeks. Otherwise they would rot within hours after creation.
One of my favourite ─ the squeezed face. Look at the expression. It’s what brings these carvings to life. Right: This one appears to be holding its breath in a tank of vinegar. Villafane says vinegar helps preserve the pumpkin for weeks. Otherwise they would rot within hours after creation.

 

The thing about pumpkin sculptures is that they don’t last very long ─ the fruit starts to rot after a few hours ─ which is why Villafane describes them as “impermanent art”.
The thing about pumpkin sculptures is that they don’t last very long ─ the fruit starts to rot after a few hours ─ which is why Villafane describes them as “temporary art”.

 

Pumpkin Carving as a Career

So who says pumpkin carving is just kid’s fun on Halloween? It’s serious business.  You can build an empire with it just as Villafane has done.

In fact, he has done so well, he runs his own studio today called Villafane Studios  (click to visit!) with a team of professional artisans who focus on sculpting. Nowadays, they don’t do just pumpkins but also other “temporary art” such as sand and snow sculptures.  He still makes movie action figures (from the likes of X-Men, Wolverine, Alien, The Predator, Terminator, to name a few) and holds master classes on pumpkin carving as well as year round events and shows.

 

Another two masterpieces. Villafane says not all his pumpkin carvings turn out well which is why he throws quite a lot away if they don’t turn out as expected. And he doesn’t make a plan or decide what he wants to carve. He’ll see where the pumpkin takes him, start carving with an end result that should turn out to be what it turns out to be in the end.
Another two masterpieces. Villafane says not all his pumpkin carvings turn out well which is why he throws quite a lot away if they don’t turn out as expected. And he doesn’t make a plan or decide what he wants to carve. He’ll see where the pumpkin takes him, start carving with an end result that should turn out to be what it turns out to be in the end.

 

This zombie deserves to be appreciated up close and personal. Look at the gruesome details. Visceral pumpkin innards for hair. The zombie is part of a full display at the New York Botanical Gardens in 2012.
This zombie deserves to be appreciated up close and personal. Look at the gruesome details. Visceral pumpkin innards for hair. The zombie is part of a full display at the New York Botanical Gardens in 2012.

 

Here’s the full ensemble. Everything here is bonafide pumpkin. For example, the zombie’s pants. They have been made out of pumpkin rind. Villafane usually does his carvings in front of spectators.
Here’s the full ensemble. Everything here is made out of bonafide pumpkin. For example, the zombie’s pants. They have been made out of pumpkin rind. Villafane usually does his carvings in front of spectators as the carving process is a  show in itself.

 

Watch Villafane carve the Epic Zombie Trail Pumpkin Sculpture in New York Botanical Gardens (2012)

3rd Annual Enchanted Pumpkin Garden 2017

This year ─ from the 20th to 29th October ─ Villafane Studios and team will be displaying their pumpkin creations at the 3rd Annual Enchanted Pumpkin Garden 2017 (a desert garden for visitors) in Carefree, Phoenix Arizona. Ray’s Villafane Studios is also on facebook. Do pop by to watch him in action.  He regularly posts up his videos and sculptures whether in pumpkin, sand or comic and pop culture collectible form for all to see and enjoy.

At Last Year’s Enchanted Pumpkin Garden Event

 

At the 2011 event, zombies explode out of a giant pumpkin at the New York Botanical Gardens. Villafane’s in the foreground (pic via Notes On The Road). The Monster Explosion Creation was made out of three monster pumpkins, the largest one holding the record of the biggest pumpkin ever grown at 824.86kg!
At the 2011 event, zombies explode out of a giant pumpkin at the New York Botanical Gardens. Villafane’s in the foreground (pic via Notes On The Road). The Monster Explosion Creation was made out of three monster pumpkins, the largest one holding the record of the biggest pumpkin ever grown at 824.86kg!

Watch the Explosive Carving process here

 

Here are two carvings which are not faces. Left: Cutting close to the bone with a zombie’s hand. Right: A monster carnivorous plant straight out of Villafane’s mind.
Here are two carvings which are not faces. Left: Cutting close to the bone with a zombie’s hand. Right: A monster carnivorous plant straight out of Villafane’s mind.

 

Humble Beginnings

But it was not always this way for the extraordinary artist.

Villafane had humble beginnings and spent his early years growing up in a farm. He found fame in pumpkin carving quite by chance. In his earlier days back in the 90s after graduating from the School of Visual Arts, New York, he became an art teacher to kindergarten to 12th Grade students in the village school of Bellaire, Michigan.

According to his website, he began dabbling in pumpkin sculpting as projects with his students but when the students’ parents got impressed and started requesting for his pumpkin carvings, Villafane realised that he was on to something and began offering his pumpkin carvings to local hotels and restaurants.

 

Villafane’s love affair with The Hubbards started in 2013 when he and the Villafane Studios team travelled to Ludwigsburg, Germany to attend Krbisausstellung, Europe’s biggest pumpkin festival. There, for the first time, he carved the Hubbard squash ─ coloured winter squashes of dark grey to green to blue with orange flesh.
Villafane’s love affair with The Hubbards started in 2013 when he and the Villafane Studios team travelled to Ludwigsburg, Germany to attend Krbisausstellung, Europe’s biggest pumpkin festival. There, for the first time, he carved the Hubbard squash ─ coloured winter squashes of dark grey to green to blue with orange flesh.

 

The team then travelled to Switzerland where he carved more hubbards. Left: As he created the pieces, he said: “Meet the Hubbards. Hans and Heinrich Hubbard. I really love working with these Hubbard squash. A refreshing break from the standard pumpkin.”
The team then travelled to Switzerland where he carved more hubbards. Left: As he created the pieces, he said: “Meet the Hubbards. Hans and Heinrich Hubbard. I really love working with these Hubbard squash. A refreshing break from the standard pumpkin.”

 

He had always known that art was his calling, especially sculpting. Back in the day, he was sculpting action figure toys for the collectibles industry of Warner Bros, Marvel Comics, Hasbro, Blizzard etc, while carving pumpkins as a fall hobby.

Although he was sculpting toys for big names, it was his pumpkin hobby that changed his life forever. People went gaga because he was among the first, if not the first, to up the ante of the of the artform’s paradigm. And before anyone could say “Pumpkin Carving!”, he was propelled to instant fame by all the attention he was getting.  By 2006, he gained so much recognition for his art that he resigned as a teacher to take on pumpkin carving and sculpting on a fulltime basis.

 

Did You Know: Villafane says when he carves, he makes it up as he goes along. He never has a preconceived idea about how the carving should turn out. He just starts and then goes with the flow to wherever it leads.

 

More Hubbards. More smiley, funny faces.
More Hubbards. They wear smiley, funny expressions instead of grimaces

 

Here’s a video of Villafane when he was featured in Wall Street Journal.

 

More Smiley faces. Left: A more “traditional” approach to Halloween pumpkins. Right: It’s the deep creases and the eyes and accurate depiction of facial muscles and skin that make the carvings come alive. The old lady balances a pumpkin seed on her tongue.
More Smiley faces. Left: A more “traditional” approach to Halloween pumpkins. Right: It’s the deep creases and the eyes and accurate depiction of facial muscles and skin that make the carvings come alive. The old lady balances a pumpkin seed on her tongue.

 

Shifting from the face, here are Planet of the Apes and a Red Indian (Sitting Bull, perhaps?) in full headgear. How long does Villafane usually take to complete a carving? Average time: 20 minutes.
Shifting from the face, here are Planet of the Apes and a Red Indian (Sitting Bull, perhaps?) in full headgear. How long does Villafane usually take to complete a carving? Average time: 20 minutes.

 

Today, Ray Villafane has a cult following and is a busy, busy man, running a full-fledged studio doing sculptures for events as well as parties and functions. For example, he was called to carve pumpkins in Las Vegas for Heidi Klum’s Halloween party. He was also invited to the White House.

His website takes bookings as well as online shopping orders for his DVD tutorials, digital download tutorials as well as pumpkin carving tools for those who want to carve like the master.

 

Did You Know: For all the pumpkins he deals with, Villafane is allergic to pumpkins! “If I’m carving too many or too long, my skin gets really itchy and if pumpkin juice gets anywhere near my eyes, my eyes itch.” He also dislikes the smell.

 

Watch his Tutorial. Look at how he does the eyes

 

Can’t get enough of pumpkins? Read:

5+7 Amazing Facts about the Pumpkin you Didn’t Know

High Blood Pressure? Put a Pumpkin Lid on it!

Halloween Treats for your 4& 2-legged Friends

 

Here are 7 trade secrets to how he does it (Paraphrased from NBC News slidshow):

1. One Pumpkin per Carving: Villafane says he only ever uses just one pumpkin for every carving, and not several put together. Only on rare occasions does he use bits from another pumpkin or fruit for embellishments.

2.Round is not Ideal for Face Making: Don’t go for perfectly round pumpkins as there is no space for facial features. The nicest, most well-formed  pumpkins are not necessarily the best ones for carving.

 

Left: This pumpkin has been carved on the side. The pumpkin stem then becomes a grotesque mole on the cheek. Right: With a mini-me embedded in his brain, this one is crying pumpkin seeds.
Left: This pumpkin has been carved on the side. The pumpkin stem then becomes a grotesque mole on the cheek. Right: With a mini-me embedded in his brain, this one is crying pumpkin seeds.

 

3. Go for Oblong Pumpkins for Faces: Oblong pumpkins give more room to carve from forehead to chin so as to bring out realistic faces.

4. Go for Thick-Walled Pumpkins:  The secret is in the weight. The thickness of the pumpkin wall is determined by its weight. Thus, always go for heavy pumpkins, the heaviest of same size pumpkins you can find. Pick three pumpkins of the same size, compare their weights and take the one that is the heaviest. It will be meaty enough to provide a firm wall for carving.

 

Villafane working on a pumpkin. The “hands” are pumpkin vines. He also sells them on his website.
Villafane working on a pumpkin. The “hands” are pumpkin vines. He also sells them on his website.

 

5. Go Deep: To create a truly 3D carving, depth is very important. Use all of the pumpkin’s depth. Go as deep as you can without breaking through.  When carving faces, the eye area and just below the nose are the deepest areas. The tip of the nose should be left untouched, except to remove the rind.

6. Use the Right Tools: Villafane seldom uses a knife. Most of the time, he uses ribbon loop tools for moulding clay sculptures. Sometimes he uses a paring knife to dig out parts but only at the end of the carving, if at all.

7. Use a Mirror: For beginners, use a reference such as a picture. For face reference, nothing beats a mirror.

 

Hope you enjoyed the read. Till the next Halloween, toodles!
Hope you enjoyed the read. Till the next Halloween, toodles!

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